By David Knopf, News Editor
Ask Sarah Fulte how long she’s been involved in bringing Santa to town for Orrick’s kids and she just laughs.
“All my life,” she says.
The years run together, but one thing’s certain – it’s been a long, long run. Bobby Fulte, Sarah’s husband and business partner at Orrick Oil and Gas Co. on Creason Street, was around long after she started setting up an event for a volunteer Santa to pass out treats and gifts for the children.
“He’s been gone since 1992,” she said, inching 21 years closer to when Orrick’s annual might have gotten its start. “I know that because he didn’t have to deal with the flood we did.”
The flood was in 1993, and the businesses on and around Front Street, got wet. But before and after the flood year there were red and green X’s on calendars in Orrick to mark the occasion.
This year’s event takes place Friday at 6 p.m. in the Lions Club building. It’s a week earlier than usual, Fulte said, an accommodation so the current Santa could work his schedule around his wife’s illness.
“He’s been Santa for me probably the past five years,” she said. “I’ve probably gone through six or seven Santas.”
Maybe that’s the way to put a number on how long the event’s been part of Orrick’s holiday season. Count the Santas, not the years.
Orrick Community Christmas – the event’s semi-official name – started back when legendary Mayor Lloyd Smith was ruling the roost.
That might well push the event’s origin to the 1970s or so.
“We did that together,” Fulte said. “He helped me build a stage in there (at the Lions Club). I don’t do that any more.”
It’s a big undertaking collecting donations and making sure there are enough gifts and treats for all the kids.
“They all get candy and a gift,” said Fulte, who in good weather has seen the line stretch around the corner where Front Street meets Creason. “It’s kids of all age. The real young ones to the older ones. It’s neat to watch.
“It’s just a big party and if I don’t have enough cookies I’ll go out and buy some.”
For years, Fulte and others say residents and businesses would make donations to a Christmas fund at the Bank of Orrick. In years when the fund ran a little short, Fulte would make up the difference herself or call on other businesses to pitch in.
She only laughs when asked how much she’s contributed personally.
There are many details to pulling off an event this size, but with no formal civic group to fall back on to split the responsibilities. To keep it manageable, Fulte said she’s cut back on some of the non-essentials.
“We used to take pictures of each child and I’d put them up here in the window and the parents would come by and I’d give it to them,” she said. “But it got too expensive. Now the parents take their own pictures. Nearly all of them do.”
But there are details she still attends to. The current Santa prefers a big rocking chair on the big night, and Fulte delivers it to the Lion’s Club.
“I usually decorate the rocking chair with a big bow, but I have lots of help,” she said.
Fulte said her sons Brent and Jeff help her, as does her daughter and sister-in-law. Community volunteers pitch in, too. Families help by bringing refreshments, the staple being holiday cookies.
“I just hope the community realizes this is a lot of work and a lot of fun,” she said. “It doesn’t take any money to have Santa for the kids. It’s just work.”
Fulte added to the festive atmosphere this year by purchasing five new Christmas lights for the poles that line Front Street. It’s not clear how much of the $910 they cost were a personal contribution or a combination of donations and Fulte’s personal funds.
Ask her, and chances are she’ll laugh, as if it doesn’t matter where the money came from as long as the business district is lit for the holidays, just as it’s been since who knows when.
“I’ve done it every year,” Fulte said of bringing Santa and the town’s kids together.
“I haven’t missed a year yet,” she said, pausing briefly to laugh again, “but I’m getting there.”